The headline immediately set off alarm bells here in our office: “Suspended Gymnastics Coach Speaks out: ‘I Cared Too Much’”
That’s atop the New York Times’ profile of Maggie Haney, who has been forbidden to coach for eight years due to accusations of ‘berating and mistreating her athletes.’
The claim of ‘caring too much’ has been used (abused?) by many an abuser.
This claim alone might not be as upsetting. But it’s followed by other troubling quotes from Haney:
“Maybe what used to be OK isn’t OK any more. . . ”
“Maybe the culture has changed. . . ”
“I think a lot of this is about money. . .”
“I wanted them (student athletes) to be a little too perfect every day when maybe that’s not possible. . .”
Haney also lays plenty of blame elsewhere.
First, she attacks the gymnastics officials who’ve banned her (saying she’s being made a scapegoat because of their mishandling of the Larry Nassar scandal).
Then, she blames parents who have supposedly become “too invested in their daughters’ success” and are now “emboldened to lash out and potentially crush anyone who stands in their daughters’ way.”
Then, it’s other coaches, who “are just letting the girls do whatever because they don’t want to get in trouble.”
And she predicts that unless her style of coaching continues, gymnastics will “be filled with underachievers. . .” because coaches won’t push youngsters hard enough.
Maybe. But listen to two of the parents who support Haney.
One describes that type of gymnastics as “a 9 to 5 job.”
Another says “If I wanted her to come home smiling and happy every day, I’d send her to clown school,” adding that if a parent doesn’t “like it, get up and leave.”
No matter how driven or talented a child is (or a parent THINKS their child is), we at Horowitz Law cringe at the notion that any activity, including school, should ever be considered a 9 to 5 job for anyone who is underaged. And we categorically reject the notion that if an adult suspects abusive behavior towards kids, the responsible decision is just to “get up and leave,” which of course may mean that other children, just not yours, are mistreated.
But back to the allegations themselves (which – let us be clear – are not sexual in nature) – it is of course possible (though unlikely in our view) that Haney is innocent.
Keep in mind, however, that USA Gymnastics did an investigation, held hearings, listened both to accusers and defenders of Haney, and concluded that the coach’s ‘aggressive behavior’ toward kids was ‘severe.’ (Haney’s lawyer claims the hearings were ‘biased’ and ‘a kangaroo court.)
Still, our decades of experience with abuse tell us that the ‘take away’ here is simple – The welfare of the kids – not the coaches, parents, schools or athletic programs – always comes first.
We should err on the side of caution, always, because while short term success in sports is great, a child’s long term personal, emotional, sexual and physical health and safety is better.